COVID-19 is “the greatest public health crisis of the last hundred years,” says UK author and science presenter, Dr Michael Mosley.
After consulting with experts worldwide, Mosley has produced an informative, easy-to-read book: COVID 19, What You Need To Know About the Coronavirus.
In layman’s terms, it looks at what we know so far, gives us a chronology of major worldwide events, and looks at where we go from here.
And he tells us more about the virus’s structure, how it impacts our cells, and how our antibodies eventually react to fight back.
The virus is so tiny, ”you could fit a hundred million viral particles on the head of a pin and yet you would only need to get exposed to a few hundred to get infected.”
To invade our cells, the virus’s spikes lock into the ACE2 enzymes, which sit outside each cell to help control our blood pressure, opening these enzymes like a key into a lock, then slipping in.
The virus has also coats its spikes with sugars, known as glycans, which help it evade our body’s immune system.
Once in the cell, the virus wreaks havoc, releasing its genetic code and “begins to churn out endless copies of itself, which it releases into your body, ready to infect more cells,” we learn in the first chapter, entitled Portrait Of A Serial Killer.
And though our body has strong defence mechanisms, the virus has a head start. “The COVID-19 virus can do the equivalent of cutting the telephone lines, silencing the alarms before they go off. That way it can hide from your defence system while it continues to multiply.”
But unfortunately people who catch the virus are generally shedding well before they know they are infected. “Viral shedding seems to occur early on in an infection (typically two to three days after getting infected) and most people (roughly 80 per cent) get such mild symptoms that they ignore it,” writes Dr Mosley.
“At least 40 per cent of people who get COVID19 have no symptoms at all. That is what allowed it to spread so far and so fast. Early on in the pandemic there were a lot of people getting on planes and going out to work blissfully unaware that they were infected. Most governments were far too slow to react.”
It may be a crafty virus, but its outer membrane of the virus falls apart when it meets soap and water, which is why washing is so important.
“The ability to infect someone else before you yourself have major symptoms is one of the major differences between COVID-19 and its close relative SARS-Cov, the coronavirus that caused an outbreak of a respiratory disease called SARS nearly 20 years ago,” says Dr Mosley.
MEN MORE VULNERABLE
Men who get COVID-19 are “far more likely to die than women,” says Dr Mosley.
The fatality rate for women 50 to 59 have the virus, for example, is 1.23 per cent: for men the same age, it’s 2.05 per cent. For women 60 to 69, it’s 4.02 per cent, for men the same age, 6.67 per cent.
This is partly because women, with our double X chromosome, have a more powerful immune system.
“Men tend to have higher rates of obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and lung disease, all of which put you at greater risk of becoming ill and dying from the virus,” writes Dr Mosley.
Yet another reason to avoid having that extra Lindt after dinner!
The book includes fascinating case studies of people whose contraction of the virus led to a new scientific revelation, plus a neat timeline, starting from when the world first received official notice that something was wrong. That was on December 31 last year, when authorities in Wuhan, China, “told the WHO that they had begun treating a number of patients with ‘pneumonia of unknown cause.'”
By Day 12, the Chinese government and WHO were still proclaiming there was no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission. WHO went on to add that countries should not put in place any travel or trade restrictions on China.
It wasn’t until Day 32 that President Trump announced the US was closing its borders to China. But, says Mosley, “According to the New York Times, at least 430,000 people travelled on direct flights from China to the US in the first three months of 2020, ‘including nearly 40,000 in the two months after President Trump imposed restrictions on such travel.’”
(Little wonder the US has the highest corona rate in the world!)
On Day 57, Trump was tweeting, “The coronavirus is very much under control in the USA. Stock market starting to look very good to me!”
On Day 77, March 16, London researchers reported that a do-nothing policy meant at least 510,000 UK residents would die, along with 2.2 million Americans. They recommended a policy of “suppression” to flatten the curve, which would mean closing schools and businesses and confining people to their homes.
It wasn’t until Day 81, March 20, that Australia closed its borders to non-residents, which was three days before Boris Johnson put the UK into lockdown.
At the time of writing this, the world has reported 9.61 million cases of corona.
With 489,000 deaths and 4.81 million recoveries.
“There is no evidence that COVID-19 is man made. The likeliest explanation is that it jumped from a bat, into a pangolin and then to a human. It is possible, though this is far more contentious, that it was being studied in a lab in China and then escaped,” writes Mosley.
“Until we get a vaccine, COVID19, like the influenza virus that causes the seasonal flu, is likely to be with us for a long, long time. It’s possible that it could mutate into a less dangerous form so that fewer people die from it, as happened before with the swine flu in 2009. But I wouldn’t count on it.”
There’s also a chapter in the book on how to bolster your immune system and on the global race for a vaccine.
Meantime, he urges us to keep being as healthy as can be, and keep washing our hands more than ever.
At $19.99, COVID-19, What You Need To Know About The Coronavirus, is money well spent.